September 16, 2019
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Broken Lock at Bonneville Dam has major impact on Northwest commerce



Much of the critical Columbia River transportation network is down while the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers works to quickly repair a critical navigation lock that has cracked concrete. The crack was discovered earlier this month and the lock was quickly drained of water so crews could begin repairs.

The practical effect of this surprise repair means a near total shutdown of the Columbia River transportation network, “meaning huge barges that transport millions of tons of wheat, wood and other goods from the inland Pacific Northwest to the Pacific Ocean for export to Asia are at a standstill,” The Associated Press reports.

"We're trying to be really, really transparent and feed people updates as quickly as possible," Army Corps spokesman Chris Gaylord told the news agency. "We've been getting work done out there as quickly as possible." The cause of the damage is unknown, and the locks are maintained annually.

Officials with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said last week the locks will reopen Sept. 30.

The problem means barges headed inland can’t move past Bonneville Dam, and neither can those headed downriver to the Pacific Ocean, where the wheat crop is transferred to larger ships that carry it to Asian markets that are important for not just the Inland Northwest but the larger American agriculture economy.

“The eight dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers are critical parts of a watery highway that transports millions of tons of agricultural and other products for shipment to and from the Pacific Rim via large, deepwater ports on the coasts of Oregon and Washington,” AP reports. “The first of these dams is the Bonneville Dam, located about 40 miles northeast of Portland.”

Kristin Meira of the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association said 8 million tons of cargo move inland on the Columbia and Snake Rivers each year. Fifty-three percent of the country’s wheat was transported along the Columbia in 2017, and the river system also serves as the No. 2 “export gate” for corn. About $2 billion in cargo moves through the system each year, the Army Corps reports.

"It is absolutely critical that the Corps of Engineers reopen that lock as soon as possible," Meira said.

Meanwhile, officials in Gov. Jay Inslee’s administration have begun gathering information for a study on keeping – or removing – the Snake River dams, KONA radio reports.

Jim Cahill with the state Office of Financial Management updated the timeline Monday at a meeting of the South Resident Orca Task Force in Port Angeles, KONA reports. A draft report will be done by December, with public hearings coming soon afterward. The final report due to the governor and the Legislature in February.

To read more about the Bonneville Dam, check out the Spokesman-Review here and Northwest Public Broadcasting here.



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